A report by the DCMS Committee on Influencer Culture, published in April 2022, acknowledged a number of issues in relation to children who are involved in influencer marketing and children who follow influencers that create content for a child audience in social media. The issues covered a lack of protection under child labour law, safety, wellbeing and privacy concerns for the child influencers themselves. The report also highlighted the need for influencer marketing to be adequately labelled as such, particularly given that children’s ability to identify advertising and understand its persuasive intent may be lower due to their less-developed cognitive capabilities. The Committee recommended that CAP conduct a review of the use of under-16s in marketing, ensuring that special focus was given to the use and impact of child influencers, noting the time that had elapsed since CAP addressed “child brand ambassadors” in 2012.
Since the guidance on under-16s as brand ambassadors was published, CAP has developed a range of detailed advice and guidance tailored to influencer marketing that has emerged in the intervening years, setting out the type of material that falls within CAP’s remit and the steps advertisers and publishers should take to make clear when an ad is an ad. Research shows that younger children struggle with significantly integrated and highly immersive marketing in online environments, such as paid-for and controlled product endorsements by influencers. Therefore, ads directed at under-12s that are highly immersive or significantly integrated into the surrounding editorial content and unlikely to be identified clearly from the context in which they appear, require an even higher level of disclosure. On the back of evidence presented by the research, CAP issued guidance that advises ad disclosure should be:
- within or directly next to the marketing communication;
- of significant size and colour to stand out; and
- readily apparent before (if possible) or immediately at the point of engagement.
Furthermore, CAP has specific rules relating to the content of marketing directed at children. For example, ads are required to do nothing likely to result in physical, mental or moral harm of children. Nor should they make children feel inferior or unpopular if they do not have a product. Generally, marketers are urged to prepare their campaigns with a sense of social responsibility.
Links to relevant advice and guidance can be found below:
These resources detail the many and wide-ranging protections the CAP Code provides to children from misleading or irresponsible marketing by child influencers (as well as others); protections that we will seek to add to or amend should robust evidence suggest it is necessary for us to do so.
CAP recognises that there are legitimate and serious concerns around the safeguarding of children working as influencers, their protection from financial exploitation and other harms. The CAP Code regulates marketing communications, including those produced by child influencers. However, it is not within the remit of the CAP Code to prohibit or impose standards on the employment of children as influencers. Concerns relating to the nature of that practice would be more appropriately tackled by other bodies.
The Government response to the report indicates that the Department for Education is considering legislative approaches to address the current gap in protection and CAP will consider whether output from that work would benefit from being sign-posted in the guidance we provide.
The technology that helps to drive marketing, the possibilities it affords and the consumer protection issues that can arise, require CAP and the ASA to keep constantly abreast of such developments. Our monitoring over the years and the interventions we have made have resulted in new guidance, which naturally supersedes previous versions, ensuring that marketers have the most up to date advice to support their compliance with the CAP Code.
CAP will continue to monitor developments and research in this area and undertake reviews of existing regulatory positions where we consider robust evidence merits us doing so.
- Children and the vulnerable
- Online, catch-up TV and radio, in-app and in-game
- Mailings, email, phone/fax and messaging
- TV and radio (broadcast only)